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The Trump administration just opened the door to more police brutality.

The administration plans to back out of federal agreements reached with police departments around the U.S. to curb racial bias and excessive force.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is ordering a review of all Justice Department “consent decrees” that force police departments to overhaul their practices, saying, “It is not the responsibility of the federal government to manage non-federal law enforcement agencies.”

Sessions has advanced what has been dubbed the “Ferguson effect” — the unproven theory that civil rights investigations have made police less aggressive, leading to a spike in crime in cities like Chicago.

But Chicago had a crime problem long before talk of consent decrees. Consent decrees do not mean the federal government is managing local police departments but an attempt to hold them accountable.

The Trump’s administration’s retreat on consent decrees is potentially dangerous and harmful to local police departments and the communities. The retreat on consent decrees could further erode trust between police and the community.

Consent decrees, which are enforceable by the courts, were put in place by the Justice Department under President Barack Obama in such racially polarized cities as Cleveland and Ferguson, Mo. A decree worked out under the Obama administration is awaiting approval in Baltimore, which erupted in riots in 2015 over the death of Freddie Gray in police custody and an agreement is being negotiated in Chicago.

NAACP President Cornell Brooks is right to call the move by the Trump Justice Department “somewhere between chilling and alarming.”

“Consent decrees are the means by which you provide a hedge of protection, civil rights and civil liberties,” Brooks said. “Why would our attorney general upend and undo that? This review and potential reversal represents a potentially catastrophic, life-or-death consequence for cities where citizens feel like they’re under siege.”

The problem of police brutality goes beyond a “few bad actors” but in some cases reflect a pattern of widespread and systemic racism in police departments.

The Obama Justice Department opened roughly two dozen investigations of police departments, and 14 of them ended in consent decrees.

Some police chiefs have acknowledged that the consent decrees are necessary and are vowing to continue with the reforms outlined in their consent decrees, regardless of who is in office.

“We believe that the changes have improved our training, our responses, our accountability and our unwavering collaboration with our community to fulfill the terms of our agreement,” said Police Chief Gordon Eden of Albuquerque, N.M.

In Albuquerque, allegations of excessive force and a string of about 20 fatal shootings by police in a four-year period prompted a lengthy federal investigation. A scathing report identified a “culture of aggression” and faulted police for using unreasonable force with the mentally ill, reports the Associated Press.

The city’s 2014 settlement with the Justice Department included numerous reforms, and a federal monitor noted in his latest report that “a substantial amount of work lies ahead” for the police force.

The federal government is essential in holding local police departments accountable for unconstitutional practices. Consent decrees have been used to force departments to overhaul training on the use of deadly force and to root out systematic mistreatment of African Americans and Hispanics.


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